I am inspired by cookbooks. I collect them. I study them. I borrow them. And I buy them. As I admitted in a previous post, I own around 300 cookbooks (after the ones I’ve given away). So, I try to control my collection habit in a creative way: I go to the library and borrow and borrow and borrow …..

Los Angeles Downtown Public Library has the largest collection of cookbooks west of the Mississippi, or so the librarians tell me. Once or twice a year, I will make the trek downtown to wander up and down the aisles in cookbook heaven. I will stand on stools to reach the highest shelves and sit on the floor to turn page after page.

In between these treks, I visit my local public library branches that also have decent cookbook collections. I’ll try to pick up only one or two, but will always walk out with 10 – the maximum number of books you can check out in one visit. Tip: you can actually have 30 books out at a time, so several trips will help you maximize your borrowings (though usually 10 at a time is enough for me)!


On a recent visit, here are a few of the books I picked up: Larousse Gastonomique, The Escoffier Cook Book, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, Pok Pok, The Perfect Peach and Ivan Ramen. I tried making chicken pho from the Vietnamese book and it was just okay but the fresh spring roll recipe was wonderful. Having not yet visited Thailand, I was overwhelmed by Pok Pok. I loved the story of Ivan Ramen. Part memoir (love story), part cookbook – all inspirational. Larousse and Escoffier are encyclopedias of French cooking and I enjoyed browsing.

The joy of borrowing cookbooks from our library is that you can often keep them for up to 9 weeks (3 weeks + 2 renewals). That gives me time to test recipes from them, read the narrative and really get a feel for the book. Those that I love become purchases, including recently Japanese Soul Cooking and Vietnamese Home Cooking. Most books go back to the library enjoyed for something new I’ve learned or a beautiful picture or layout I’ve seen.

As I’m running out of room for my own cookbook collection, borrowing and returning cookbooks provides much of the joy of reading them without the storage or cost issues. Additionally, buying them from used bookstores is also an economical idea that I use whenever I can. I daresay that cookbooks are a bit of an obsession for me. A guilty pleasure. Though I don’t feel very guilty!

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